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Liz Kiely.

Liz Keily has had a life filled with adventures and long journeys that have helped her find her true calling and passion for the outdoors.

Feb 13, 2023

Words: Gippslandia
Images: Supplied

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Having the time to stop and observe the environment around her is the encapsulation of luxury for Liz Keily.

Liz will never forget watching an emu swim across the Murray River. It looked like a snake’s head popping out of the water, and incredibly gangly it was as it struggled to find a way onto the riverbank. Liz was worried it’d break a leg or drown. Eventually, success!

With a passport full of long journeys, you could say Liz has enjoyed an utterly luxurious life.

Liz says that she always seems to return to Gippsland, “I’m always drawn back to the amazing landscapes and lifestyle it offers,” returning to raise her children and again during lockdown.

Growing up on a dairy farm in Tanjil South, Liz’s family was one of the first settlers in the area, owning property near Becks Bridge, Moe.

Liz moved to Melbourne to study to become a high school English and history teacher, but it wasn’t long before she realised that teaching year twelves in a private school wasn’t the life for her.

“It was after a trek to Nepal in the early 80s that I knew I belonged in the outdoors. I will never forget the sense of awe I felt in the Himalayas and the simplicity of the people living there. It was on that foray overseas that I also took myself solo on train trips around India. Those experiences were life-changing for me, leading me to return to Australia and retrain as an outdoor education teacher.

“My first solo trip to a developing country in 1981 was a defining time as it showed me, in my 20s, what I truly valued and introduced me to the spirituality of the mountains. As a young woman, I felt there was nothing I couldn't do, and that premise has stayed with me for life. In my 20s and 30s, gender was never part of my consciousness, and I feel fortunate that I wasn't part of a gender-defining world. In the outdoors, women could achieve what men achieved, and in fact sometimes surpass them.

“Looking back, those times gave me the tools to look after my physical and mental health. We didn't talk about mental health back then, but I knew I needed time in the outdoors and I craved adventure.”

Liz says that using the outdoors as a therapeutic tool was in its infancy in the 1980s and 90s, but that she loved everyday outdoor adventure activities for community-based groups she was involved in, as well as the justice system. She then moved to Cairns to assist long-term unemployed youth with Far North Queensland TAFE.

“Then I moved to Alice Springs with a young family and worked with First Nations women and recovering alcoholics, which was another defining time in my life, where I got to hear firsthand the stories of trauma of the Arrernte people. I was beginning to understand the concept of generational trauma from my work but also how therapeutic nature and adventure was for these people.”

Liz believes her career in outdoor education set her on a path to some of the best and most rewarding years of her life, both personally and professionally.

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As well as her early trip through Nepal and India, and her adventures to some of Australia’s most beautiful rivers and mountains as an outdoor education teacher, Liz highlights three other explorations that left a lasting impression on her.

“I got the bug for long journeys, rather than just being a tourist. The simplicity of being on a journey where you need to be self-sufficient and make good decisions, especially when alone, became addictive. No place could be remote enough for me, and I was fortunate enough to have my outdoor education skills to enable these trips.

“I bought a bicycle and set off to the Yukon and Alaska. Along the way, I’d stop and ski, kayak and hike. I travelled for two years in Canada and Alaska. I spent the entire summer living on the Yukon River with my bike and kayak. I hiked some fantastic trails and fell in love with the history of the goldfields there. I spent a few weeks kayaking the Nelson, Mackenzie and Liard rivers in the Arctic regions of the Northwest Territories. Then I spent a winter in the Yukon and landed some great jobs: one being working on a ranch looking after huskies and horses with my own little wood cabin in the snow.”

With her children having flown the family coop, Liz began planning her next big adventure, and in 2014 she took off with her partner to ride motorcycles from Australia to London.

“This was incredibly challenging, as I had only just received my bike licence and was essentially still a learner. Little did I know that a large part of our trip was to be on dirt roads or very badly maintained roads. I was still drawn to remote areas, which of course meant roads which were muddy, rutted, and sometimes impassable. It was more akin to off-road riding.

“We travelled on the highest roads of the world as well as some of the remotest areas of the Himalayan mountain range in India and Nepal. There was barely a day where I wasn't pushed past my skill level and, of course, my comfort level.”

Liz, on her Suzuki DR650, and her partner Con travelled through 14 countries and clocked over 44,000 kilometres during the trip, finally returning home in 2016. Unfortunately, the pair didn’t make it to London, as once they arrived in Iran they needed to return home due to a family member’s ill health. Liz says, “There’s still unfinished business there.”

“If I close my eyes, the mountains of Oman are the most memorable [view to me]. Setting up camp on a plateau watching the sweeping vista of golden sunset colours above the jagged peaks that rise and fall to the valleys below. Those roads were the steepest I had ridden and probably the most challenging too.”

You didn’t expect Liz to sit still, did you?

In the summer of 2018, Liz spent 10 weeks (two of those solo) kayaking the Murray River, covering just under 2000 kilometres of the mighty waterway.

Liz feels that one of her most enduring memories is of her first kayak roll on the Mitchell River.

“It was on a significant rapid at The Ampitheatre. I can still visualise and feel every second of that experience. The feeling of being upside down and the bubbles all around me, to the wonder of righting myself. It just seemed to happen effortlessly like I was being guided by another force. I have never had that complete feeling again.

“Every journey has impacted me in some way. I think it depends upon what stage in life you are in and what lessons you’re open to learning. They each teach me something about myself and my capabilities, and I gain a huge amount of confidence from journeying, something that doesn't necessarily stay with me in everyday life. When I’m travelling, I feel incredibly strong and capable. I love my body and all that it is capable of.

“My motorcycle trip affirmed for me that people are essentially good. We are all connected and country borders are merely lines drawn by powerful men. I also learnt about the history of colonialism and the impact it has on First Peoples the world over. This begins in our own country.”

“I’m often asked about any frightening moments we had while travelling… they can honestly be counted on one hand, whereas the joyous moments that we shared with locals occurred every day.”

In the past couple of years, Liz has been dedicating her skills, time and talents to her business, My Support Hub, a service where people with a disability can access inclusive experiences that are designed to strengthen connections with others, themselves and nature.

“My business grew during Covid lockdowns, especially in Melbourne as people's mental health worsened in isolation. I was allowed to operate as an essential service and so could offer respite to individuals. I realised people were lonely and isolated, even before Covid hit. As a result, I began creating groups where people could connect with others who had similar interests. Friendships aren't based upon whether they have the same disability or even because they have a disability, but because people share common interests. Nature, mindfulness and connection underpin all of my groups, and seeing people flourish through the relationship they’ve made through My Support Hub is immensely rewarding.”

And the next adventure for Liz?

“I’m planning to spend a month journeying on a river somewhere. I am looking at the Edward River, a little-known branch of our beautiful Murray River… I am also loving the slow, mindful journeys of watching the amazing bird life on the Gippsland Lakes.”

Sounds… luxurious.

Gippslandia - Issue No. 25

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